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Tuesday, July 25, 2017

"Summer of Love" remembered tonight on PBS. July 25 2017 edition

It's hard to believe that we first reported on this PBS documentary — inclusive of so much iconic music — TEN years ago. Tonight it returns, and we still recommend it, a decade later.

They still bill this production — about the singular summer of 1967 — as, "Summer of Love — The utopian beginnings of peace and love prevailed, and ended in chaos."

More simply titled "Summer of Love," it's tonight's returning offering in the PBS documentary history series "The American Experience." It re-airs tonight, nationwide, locally on KOCE, aka "PBS SoCal," from 8-9 pm.

The 2007 production is a striking picture of San Francisco's Haight Ashbury district during the summer of 1967. The re-airing after a decade comes becomes that's now fifty years ago this summer. The production explores the music and the mecca of the counter-culture, from "the utopian beginnings when peace and love prevailed, to the chaos, unsanitary conditions, and widespread drug use that ultimately signaled the end."

The film reveals that it was in January 1967 when thousands of young people already in San Francisco descended on Golden Gate Park for a "Human Be-In," and that set the stage. The media had flocked to the event, putting hippies in the national spotlight for the first time. And once the press offered a window into the world of Haight Ashbury, even more young people flooded in.

"The city of San Francisco has been warned of a hippie invasion come summer in numbers almost too staggering to comprehend," declared one TV news reporter of the time.

Which makes us realize that the hyperventilating hyperbole of today's mainstream media isn't a totally new thing, after all.

Indeed, much of what we deal with today can be traced to those times.

America's "War on Drugs" is still competing with popular demand for legalized marijuana. That theme was a hopeless cause then that has very much taken hold with ballot initiatives in our time. The immediacy of the issue in 1967 seemed to be that the drug culture had brought LSD into mainstream culture, with unintended consequeces.

And it was years before we would learn that CIA money and "mind control" experimentation had everything in the world to do with it.)

What was clear at the time was that a bloody and unnecessary war and an era of shocking assassinations had produced widespread disillusionment after the sudden collapse of JFK's bright promise of a "New Frontier."

Yet somehow, the music of the counter-culture was filled with sunny optimism, every bit as much as with cynical observations about the brutal nature of humankind.

"The Summer of Love" was a fleeting moment in the turbulent history of the 1960s. But its underlying message left an indelible impression on those who witnessed it.

The show's PBS site offers the following video clips, at:

1) "Summer of Love: Chapter 1" — Watch the opening scene of "Summer of Love."

2) "Free Love & Free Stuff" — In the summer of 1967, young people flooded into San Francisco and found what one thrill-seeker described as “wonderland.”

3) "Mind-Altering Drugs" — By the mid-1960s in the Haight-Ashbury district, visions of a utopian society took shape, enhanced by a new drug — LSD.

4) "The San Francisco Oracle" — Published in 12 issues from 1966 to 1968, it was THE newspaper that spoke directly to young people's imaginations and concerns, and gave birth to numerous alternative weeklys in various cities that are with us today.

5) "Summer of Love: Trailer" — The series promo short offers a portrait of the Haight Ashbury district at the height of the hippie movement.

Plus, not obvious on the site are these gems:

"Not all Haight-Ashbury's residents were happy with the hippies..." — this is a great short video look at the "push-back" from the "Donna Reed / Father Knows Best" generation:

And the indispensible song...

MUSIC VIDEO: "San Francisco (Be Sure to Wear Some Flowers in Your Hair)" recorded by one-hit-wonder SCOTT McKENZIE was 1967's song of the summer and an unofficial hippie anthem of sorts:


Buried on their site, PBS offers a highly enlightening story-behind-the-music to accompany the song. Turns out, whatever listeners thought of it, the hand of the corporatocracy was at work.

Here's that story, by Keven McAlester:

"1967 | San Francisco (Be Sure to Wear Some Flowers in Your Hair) by Scott McKenzie

"From the Collection: 'Songs of the Summer'

"How a commercial became an anthem."

By Keven McAlester

"What’s the worst song that you love? (note 1) For me, among a large and ever-growing lot of candidates, one clearly tops the list: 'San Francisco (Be Sure to Wear Some Flowers in Your Hair),' a 1967 top-ten summer song by Scott McKenzie.

"Look, I’m not proud of this.

"McKenzie, who died in 2012, was a journeyman musician (note 2) whose other claim to fame is co-writing the Beach Boys’ 'Kokomo,' itself frequently named among the worst songs ever recorded, and which I do not love at all. McKenzie had a great voice, and at first blush, 'San Francisco' could be judged, at worst, merely insubstantial — a straightforward folk-rock song with lyrics that have aged about as well as any other hippie cliché. ('If you’re going to San Francisco, you’re gonna meet some gentle people there,' goes one of the lines, and not since the reign of the Sydney Ducks has a trip to The Bay sounded so unappealing.) If the song merely lacked self-awareness and was prone to aging poorly, it would hardly qualify for any list of worsts, and indeed might even be charming. But the thing about 'San Francisco' is, the more you learn about it, the worse it gets.

"Turns out the song wasn’t written by McKenzie, but by his friend JOHN PHILLIPS of the MAMAS AND THE PAPAS — already a crippling fact, if you’re not willing to separate an artist’s personal behavior from judgments about his or her art (after his death, Phillips’ daughter accused him of sexual assault). By his own admission, Phillips wrote the song in 20 minutes, and he didn’t write it because he lived in San Francisco observing or participating in the movement he portrays — during that time, he was mostly hanging out in his Bel Air mansion, buying antiques and snorting cocaine — nor as some writerly exercise of identifying with or trying to understand his subject. No. Instead, it was written and released as a commercial.

"Sometime in the spring of 1967, Phillips and producer/music-business-icon LOU ADLER took over planning of the MONTEREY POP FESTIVAL, a now-storied three-day event inspired by the Monterey Jazz Festival. Pretty quickly, given the two men’s cachet, the festival turned into a big deal. But there was a problem: the landowners and political class of Monterey were terrified of being overrun by tens of thousands of hippies. This led Phillips to conceive the idea of writing a song to promote the festival, in which he would implore attendees to not run wild in the streets. Twenty minutes later, 'San Francisco' was written. Far from an anthemic celebration, it was part ad and part admonition. It’d be like if N.W.A.’s 'F*ck Tha Police' turned out to have been a jingle for a law-enforcement dating service.

"No matter; the song became a massive hit when it was released in May 1967, and ended up becoming a sort of unofficial hippie anthem anyway. According to the small handful of articles and books I just found by googling the song, all of the actual San Francisco underground musicians of the day (JANIS JOPLIN, THE GRATEFUL DEAD, etc.) absolutely hated it. This isn’t hard to imagine. The death of the American countercultural ideal of 1960s has been tied to various events — the SF hippie funeral of October 1967, the assassinations of 1968, the murder at Altamont, Charles Manson — and while those last three quite obviously have the weight and depth of historical tragedy, it’d be hard to find a more poetic starting point than the moment at which a PSA on behalf of the propertied class in Monterey, California became the movement’s unofficial anthem.

"So but wait. How I could write all of that and then claim to even like the song, much less love it? My admittedly ill-conceived answer is: I have no idea. Or perhaps it’s just that none of the above actually matters. (note 3) I could come up with some concrete explanations — the great melody, the surprising key changes, McKenzie’s voice, the fact that I can ignore the lyrics, the tune’s overall haunting wistfulness that gives it an air of regret, as if sung by someone in the distant future looking back at the failed idealism of youth — but none of that will mean anything to you before hearing the song, and probably won’t mean anything after. That’s the great thing about music; the images and emotions a particular song evokes, the meaning one attaches to it, are entirely internal, and different from person to person. You can share general tastes with someone, but why one song hits you and another doesn’t isn’t subject to the niceties of fact or reason. So what do I know? Nothing, it turns out.

"Put another way: I once read an interview with a Vietnam veteran who said that, to American soldiers stationed there at the time, the song was a 'tearjerker,' because San Francisco was a common destination for soldiers en route home. (note 4) In short: in the midst of a grave situation, it gave him hope. And by my insignificant personal standards or any more substantial ones, that qualifies 'San Francisco' not as one of the worst songs ever written, but one of the very best.

"Listen to the complete top ten from the summer of 1967 on Spotify."

[At the link:]

(1) Note that “worst” here does not mean “most amateurish.” The Shaggs’ Philosophy of the World is often cited as “the worst record ever made,” but its greatest sins are poor playing and utter guilelessness—which, it turns out, are also its greatest strengths, making it something like essential listening.
(2) As if fated by God or Terry Southern, one of his first bands was actually called “The Journeymen.”
(3) By which I mean: none of the above backstory actually matters in determining whether you like the song upon first hearing it; clearly recent allegations against Phillips capital-M matter quite a lot.
(4) From the book "Voices from Vietnam."

— KEVEN McALESTER is an Academy Award- and Emmy-nominated filmmaker based in Los Angeles. He has directed two documentary features ("You’re Gonna Miss Me" and "The Dungeon Masters"), produced and written three others, and directed over 30 music videos, short films, and PSAs. His work has premiered at the SUNDANCE, TORONTO, and SOUTH BY SOUTHWEST film festivals; debuted online in such publications as "The New Yorker," "Vice," and "Impose"; and been commissioned by such institutions as PBS, HBO, and the Academy of the Arts, Berlin.


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Meantime, with everything happening through these festival-packed, arrival-of-summer weekends? Go get tuneful!



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♪ The ACOUSTIC AMERICANA MUSIC GUIDE endeavors to bring you NEWS — and views of interest to artists everywhere — more specifically to musicians and the creative community and music makers and fans of acoustic and Folk-Americana music. That includes both traditional and innovative forms. From the deepest roots to today’s acoustic renaissance, that’s our beat. We provide a wealth of resources, including a HUGE catalog of acoustic-friendly venues (now undergoing a major update), and inside info on FESTIVALS and select performances in Southern California in venues from the monumentally large to the intimately small and cozy. We cover workshops, conferences, and other events for artists and folks in the music industry, and all kinds o’ things in the world of acoustic and Americana and accessible classical music. From washtub bass to musical spoons to oboe to viola to banjo to squeezebox, from Djangostyle to new-fangled-old-time string band music, from sweet Cajun fiddle to bluegrass and pre-bluegrass Appalachian mountain music to all the swamp water roots of the blues and the bright lights of where the music is headed now.
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